Palette de Bine is one woman bean-to-bar chocolate maker founded and run by Québecoise Christine Blaise. The picturesque, snowy old village of Mont-Tremblant (literally trembling mountain) is perhaps best know thanks to the nearby ski resort of the same name. But this sleepy, storybook village is also where Christine Blaise carefully crafts her bars from the bean (or ‘bine’ in Québecois).
Christine worked and trained as an architect before a feature on a design blog lead her to discover home crafted bean-to-bar chocolate. Her instinctive curiosity and passion for understanding how things work, combined with a few more internet searched deepened her interest. After speaking and visiting a few other artisans in the US, she started experimenting at home herself.
Starting very small in her own kitchen, the reactions from friends quickly encouraged her to scale up (if only a little). She then moved to the spare room of a friend’s shop that sold furniture and taking her bars to farmers markets nearby.
Palette de Bine has grown in scale and even more so in reputation and acclaim; with a string international awards and a worldwide following. But Christine still does everything herself, sorting, roasting, winnowing, refining, concheing, tempering, molding and wrapping the chocolate herself. At first, Christine had the smallest possible machinery and was crafting just 20 bars a week. She has now increased her production tenfold, making around 200 bars a week. This is still a tiny number, even for a small batch maker. But Christine refuses to compromise her process in every way, and is much happier keeping things small and completely under control than risk impacting the quality of her bars.
She is passionate about the physical process of crafting and making the chocolate by hand. Just like a building project, everything starts with the building blocks or raw materials. With chocolate, this means the cocoa beans.
Christine is very careful who she sources her beans from. She insists not just on quality, but on using suppliers (such a Maya Mountain Cacao) who guarantee fair treatment and pay for farmers. Each bean must be treated differently. For every origin she adjusts the roast time and temperature, to best bring out the flavour of each new batch of beans.
Her careful, labour intensive, micro-batch making pays off. Palette de Bine bars have won accolades both at the International Chocolate Awards and the Academy of Chocolate Awards and have fans around the world. The simple yet beautifully made bars overflow with perfectly-balanced flavours. There is no added cocoa butter. The taste is nothing more that the purest ingredients expertly crafted, just cocoa beans and sugar (cane or maple) with the occasional added natural ingredient (such as balsam fir) to give a unique twist and bring out certain dimensions of the chocolate’s flavour.
After Christine hand selects, roasts, cracks, winnows, refines, conches, ages, tempers and molds her bars by hand, she hand wraps them in her rustic yet elegant packaging. The bars are molded to look like a plank of wood – a reminder of where the chocolate has come from. The inside of the packaging is also printed with a wood grain pattern. The design using a plank of wood from a tree in Christine’s own garden. The old tree was part of the reason she chose her home, and when the tree had to be taken down she used it to make her kitchen table. When Christine started making her bars she had the engraving plate from the paper created using a plank from this same tree. Christine’s whole ethos is demonstrated in this small step; her meticulous attention to detail, her personal yet holistic approach to all aspects of her chocolate and finally the simple yet intimate beauty of what she has produced.